The ME Show

See me, hear me, feel me, fund me! Are vlogging and podcasting the ultimate slacker careers?

It's 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Christian Brower steps over the doggy gate into his office, adjusts the shutters on the window facing the front yard of his home on a quiet residential street in Gilbert, and gets to work.

Sitting down in front of his computer, Brower pulls up a little something he typed out earlier and begins reading it aloud.

"The other evening, my wife and I were discussing how we should have our wills drawn up, when she asked me if I wanted to be buried or cremated. Now, I didn't think I really had any strong feelings about the subject, until I thought about all those zombie horror movies."

Christian Brower's got the look -- and life -- that's custom-made for vlogging. "Maybe I project my life like a TV show. That's how I talk, how I look."
Jeff Newton
Christian Brower's got the look -- and life -- that's custom-made for vlogging. "Maybe I project my life like a TV show. That's how I talk, how I look."
The Dragon Page podcasters Michael Mennenga (left) and Evo Terra. "The question right now is who's gonna make money in podcasting," says Terra.
Jeff Newton
The Dragon Page podcasters Michael Mennenga (left) and Evo Terra. "The question right now is who's gonna make money in podcasting," says Terra.

It's a blog, basically. Yet another one of those rambling, folksy, Reader's Digest-style personal anecdotes that have been clogging the Internet since simple text-transmitting tools and free blog-hosting sites made updating personal Web pages as easy as sending e-mail.

Only Brower is doing his blog a bit differently. Facing a Sony video camera and a pair of halogen lamps and sitting in front of a blue screen, Brower reads from a window on his computer that begins scrolling like a professional news TelePrompTer while he speaks. Ninety seconds later, he saves the file and sends it to his blogging host, where it's automatically inserted at the top of his Web page.

In little more than the time it takes to write and post a new diary entry to a traditional text-based blog page, anyone with a camcorder and the right $99 software can now become a "vlogger," or video blogger -- the latest advancement in the 4-year-old weblogging phenomenon that Forbes recently proclaimed as "the 'it' thing" in tech trends for 2005.

Well, not everyone can make the transition to video. As a quick perusal of the still-small selection of available vlog sites makes glaringly apparent, there's a reason most of the Web-addicted, opinion-spouting recluses who write daily blogs are better read than seen. Awkwardness, homeliness and incoherent mumbling run rampant.

But the handful of bloggers out there with genuine TV appeal -- former AV geeks, mostly, with some public speaking classes or stage experience under their belts -- are discovering there may be some actual star potential in moving to the tiny QuickTime screen.

Already, a few vloggers are beginning to emerge as must-see personalities on the Web and through the viewing panels of a growing number of applications that automatically find and download vlogs to your computer just as invisibly as online newspapers send daily news feeds.

Boston video producer Steve Garfield, a Seinfeld look-alike whose inexplicably amusing clips about nothing -- one day he's shoveling snow, the next he's shopping for OJ and oatmeal cookies with his reluctant wife, Carol -- has attracted the attention of Time, BusinessWeek and Nightline. Rocketboom, a popular site offering daily satirical news briefs hosted by a former reality TV star named Amanda Congdon, seems to have already filled a niche as the wired world's three-minute The Daily Show.

Christian Brower believes he's got what it takes to be a vlogging star. He's definitely got the face for it. While he's never appeared on TV, the 36-year-old Valley computer specialist has the oddly familiar look of someone you've seen pitching Toyotas or discount legal services on late-night commercial spots. His animated voice and naturally cartoonish facial expressions seem inherited from a long line of Opies and Richies and two generations of Darrins.

"I think it's like that thing where after a while, people start to look like their pets," says Brower, who admits he grew up with his face glued to the tube and has probably seen every episode of Bewitched five times. "It could be that because I watched so much TV, maybe I project my life like a TV show. That's how I talk, how I look. I know that's where I get my timing."

Brower's so certain that vlogging is his future, he recently ditched the hosting service he'd been using to store his files and manage his bandwidth in favor of his own dedicated server (at www.vlogmania.com), to handle the increases in audience traffic he expects his vlogs to get. Right now, he's paying about a hundred dollars a month on bandwidth, but he expects increased traffic to push that monthly cost to $2,500 before long.

"For the first time in my life, I'm one of the first people on a bandwagon that I know is gonna get huge," he says, confidently. "It's only a matter of time before one of the people doing this really catches on and makes it big. So I'm kind of in this race right now, one that's gonna get a lot more crowded soon."

Shortly after getting married last year, Brower announced he was quitting his full-time job to seriously pursue do-it-yourself video stardom. At his disobliging wife's insistence, Brower recently took on a 3:30-p.m.-to-midnight IT job at a local company to pay his share of the bills.

But he's already counting down the days until he can make a living doing nothing but dispensing his personal observations on suburban life and videotaping his lunchtime trips to the fridge.

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